Earlier in November, Italian soccer giants AC Milan announced the opening of a new office in the city of Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), in order to further their goals of international expansion in the region.
The office, located in the Dubai International Financial Center, will serve as a base for the club’s operations in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, where it boasts a strong fanbase and a number of existing commercial partners, including long-standing principal partner Emirates.
In becoming the first Italian club to open an office in the MENA region, Milan also confirmed its commitment to the regional youth soccer academy it runs in fellow Persian Gulf state Kuwait, which it has operated for the past 15 years.
At the time, Giorgio Furlani, AC Milan's chief executive, said: “Casa Milan Dubai represents our commitment to global growth and our strong belief in the potential of the Middle Eastern market.”
“This new office is not merely a physical space but a testament to AC Milan’s ambition to foster a stronger, more global football community.”
Speaking to Sportcal, AC Milan chief commercial officer Maikel Oettle echoed this sentiment, saying: “There's a very young audience in certain parts of the Middle East. Very hungry for sports, very hungry for football, and to capitalize on this movement and to [take] some inspiration from that vision is really where we see the potential.”
“Whether this is new brand partnerships, whether this is academies, whether this is doing more with our existing partners and existing fan base. It feels like the sky's the limit every time you go there, and that's really what we want to capitalize on as a football brand.”
A stated aim of the office is to help AC Milan “cultivate new relationships” in the MENA region, but the presence in the region of the side’s existing partnerships, including the aforementioned Emirate’s tie-up as well the club’s official hotel partner SIRO, has equally informed the decision.
Oettle added: “It's very important for us to provide a better service to our key partners. We want to be closer to our 35 million fans [In the Middle East and Africa]. We see that there is a responsibility for us to help them in terms of sports development, and in terms of creating fan engagement activities. Expansion is key for us and the Middle East. The Emirates in particular is a key region for that growth where we believe growth could come from in the future.”
Oettle, who came into the chief commercial officer role at AC Milan in October after his predecessor, Casper Stylsvig departed the club for Chelsea, identified the Middle East as one of the three most important areas on the globe for Milan’s international expansion plan, alongside North America and China.
“Our premise with our new ownership (RedBird Capital Partners) on this new growth path is really to try to play at the intersection of sports, fashion, and entertainment and to occupy a role in which we can have a cultural impact,” he explained.
“That cultural impact looks very different in the Middle East than it might look in the US, so we have this trifecta strategy, where we focus on China we focus on Dubai and we focus on the United States, but in all of those territories with slightly different tactics and a slightly different strategy.”
RedBird’s purchase of Milan, finalized in June 2022, meant the club became one of nine teams in Italy’s top-tier Serie A competition to have North American investors, and by far the most high-profile.
Serie A, for its part, has effectively encouraged the internationalization of its clubs, with the league itself setting up an office in the US in order to grow its product stateside.
RedBird’s influence has thus fair aided Milan’s International expansion goals, according to Oettle, who said of them: “The key with everything that we do with RedBird is they have such a vast and extensive network of experts and influential people in their network. They have so much expertise themselves, and the support that they're providing is [RedBird saying] 'Tell us what you want to do and tell us what you need from us in order to do that better and bigger,' and that's really the premise across everything we do.
“They're really facilitating access and delivering knowledge and expertise and obviously support to get [our] ventures off the ground.”
Despite the rapid rush from a lot of clubs to capitalize on money coming from the Middle East, and the influx of investment from the region into soccer club ownership groups across Europe, Oettle stresses that Milan is aiming to operate in a different, more sustainable fashion in the region, in order to forge longer-lasting bonds.
“We want to have a trailblazer position in everything we do but it has to be sustainable. We felt that [the Dubai] office opening was part of a very sustainable long-term journey for us into the Middle East," he said.
“To compare ourselves to clubs that are owned by Abu Dhabi, or clubs that are owned by Qatar, we have a different strategy. We have a different shareholder structure. For us, it's really important to grow our brand to become culturally […] and this market, as it comes to especially fashion and entertainment, is growing a lot and attracting a lot of content. So, it's an ideal place for us to just carve out our own sustainable way of growing the brand.”
The club has already delved into a number of brand activations over the last number of years in the UAE, including watch parties with Milan legends, a tour with the Serie A trophy, warm weather training camps, and youth coaching academies. While the new office won't see the club change that strategy, Oettle believes it will see such activations occur with more frequency.
“There was always this state of mind of being present in the region before I think, in the last year alone, we had four high-level visits to Dubai […] and the office is now just a physical location that will allow us to do this more frequently.”